After our visit to the local garden centre, four of us (Paul being otherwise engaged) ventured off through the Dartford Tunnel to visit the RSPB Reserve at Rainham Marshes. After checking in we had a cup of tea and a biscuit before getting down to the serious business of bird watching. On the sea wall there were at least 30 house sparrow in the hawthorn bushes, a reed bunting, and goldfinch. On the mud by the edge of the river we saw black-headed gull, a grey heron and mallard.
Taking the usual anti-clockwise circuit the feeders had more house sparrow, some chaffinch and green finch and numerous collard dove. Along the track we noticed several snails and we examined a few of them – which appeared to be cepaea nemoralis – the humbug colourned snail with a brown rim to the aperture. Irene also spotted a small white moth which was spread along the stem of a reed – almost invisible – and Malcolm identified it as a lime speck pug.
Magpie and wood pigeon were perched in the trees and a great spotted wood pecker was calling in the distance. In the sheltered area we managed to see blue tit, great tit and a chiffchaff. As we continued into the more open area a kestrel hovered overhead and a sparrowhawk flew through. We heard a wren and cetti’s warbler. A gang of about 8 swallows flew through over the pools and towards the Thames.
From the first hide (where we had our lunch) we could see mute swan, little egret, coot, greylag and canada geese and several teal. At one stage a small brown bird flew quickly and low into some reeds in front of the hide. After about ten minutes Irene noticed a snipe appearing from roughly the same area.
I found a piece of broken and dried out reedmace stem which had a hole in it. I showed it to Malcolm, and he split the stem to show me the tunnelling inside made by larvae of insects.
Continuing our walk on the wooden boarding between the reed beds we noticed several dragonflies including ruddy darter. A large flock of starling were disturbed by a peregrine stooping. From the viewpoint we added lapwing, pochard, tufted duck and little grebe.
Looking out over the fields at the far end of the reserve there were large numbers of gulls including herring, greater & lesser black-backed, and black-headed. They were joined by jackdaw and carrion crow.
As Malcolm and I moved ahead of Sally and Irene there was a loud screaming of a water rail from under the boardwalk just ahead of us – quite a scary experience! Further along we had very close views of lizard, marsh frog, devils coachman with it’s raised “scorpion” tail.
As we had heard that there might be whinchat beyond the reserve near the base of the landfill site we continued along the path outside the reserve. Although the whinchat eluded us we did see a large flock of goldfinch feeding on teasel heads, and peacock, red admiral, and small white butterflies. A female long-winged conehead was very obliging whilst we took photos, and then a little later we also saw a male.
As we continued back towards the reserve centre, we spotted a wheatear sitting up on a mound of earth.
We returned to the reserve centre just before 5.00 pm when they were due to close, and got back to Gravesend in record time.